Live Heavy Metal is Back!

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy, Photos by Matt “Rabit” Martinez

On March 10, 2020, Pearl Jam announced that they were postponing their upcoming spring tour due to COVID-19 entering the country. Before we knew it, the virus spread throughout the U.S., causing all concerts and tours to shut down. The politicians, in the meantime, decided to shut down the country, meaning no movie theaters, restaurants, and worst of all for us metalheads, no concerts! While groups were doing live streams for us, it did not feel the same. While it did intend to protect the public (no doubt), it really messed with our minds because we craved getting back into a mosh pit and headbanging like crazy. Well, it has been over a year since Rabit and I saw DragonForce at the Regent in L.A. (our last concert), and things are starting to return to normal. Then, the Tiki Bar in Costa Mesa, Cal., announced a small metal concert featuring local acts Where It Lies, Fused by Defiance, Subsurface Tension, and Through the Oculus. With heavy metal coming back to venues once again, it was time to enter the pits.

The first group to get things going was Where It Lies. Introduced by Mister Rogers as “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” plays, the groups blasts the roof off with “Still Holding On.” Led by vocalist/guitarist Mike Lira, Where It Lies brought some much need positive vibes to their melodic metal sound. Lira not only sings with passion, but when he screams, his ferocity sharply increases. Lead guitarist/vocalist Anthony Ornelas performed stellar lead riffs while righteously singing along with Lira, mostly during the choruses. Bassist Stephanie Marquis and drummer Timothy Creasy brought melodic harmony to the beat, each performing superbly. Where It Lies brought a sense of comradery to the Tiki Bar with songs like “Say The Word,” “Monster,” “All For Nothing” (where Ornelas crushed it on lead vocals), “Pieces,” “Woven Web,” and “Journey Home.” Before the first guitar switch out, they did their own version of the Bon Jovi classic, “It’s My Life,” and they helped stir the fires in us. I dig how this group brings positivity to us. We all can use some of that exceptional energy, and Where It Lies supplied it metal style.

Full Where It Lies gallery below:

Up next is an old favorite of mine, Fused By Defiance. It is funny because just before the pandemic struck, we saw them at Fullerton’s Slidebar, where they introduced their new frontwoman, Taj Jewett. After a year of not seeing them, they are still as defiant as ever. The twin guitar attack of Kevin Cordero and Arnold Quezada remains vicious. Cordero whams stellar solos when he needs to, while Quezada gut-checks the main riffs with authority. Bassist Jon Sigala and drummer Ted Kelliher are ravaging beasts when it comes to blasting the beats with funky, nu-metal vibes. Taj stole the show during their set. She has this commanding presence when she grabs the mic. Not only can she rap with excellent flow, she has intense fierceness to her voice. When they opened their set with “Insanity,” Taj went straight into the crowd and got the mosh pit going. That is what makes a great frontman or woman: charisma. From “Payback” to “The Otherside,” “Hollywood Holdup,” “Paint it Red,” and the newly popular “Cancel Culture,” Fused By Defiance rocked the house. They finish their night with their classic tune during the Ryan Cheek days, “Against the Wall,” a personal favorite of mine. I got into the pit for that tune, and it felt great.

Full Fused by Defiance gallery below:

Subsurface Tension was an interesting group to watch. The Anaheim based outfit is the creation of frontwoman Jen Taylor Warren, formerly the co-founder of The Iron Maidens. As soon as I heard the first tune, “Swan Dive,” I could tell that bring that classic metal sound that never goes out of style. Warren is no stiff on the microphone as she wail to heavens and get down in the gutters to bring intense singing to the forefront. Guitarist Scott Gray is razor sharp with the guitar licks, crisp and clean through each note played. He adds different elements into his sound, from thrash to power and classic stuff. Drummer Andy de Leon is a mean brute on the kit, wailing the skin of the snares and pulsating the double bass pedals. Bassist Freddie Al-Hajj is a keg of dynamite that explodes groovy bass licks that walks in the world of funk, metal, and psychedelic. Subsurface Tension kept the party going with their passionate songs like “Devil Pin-Up Girl,” “Black Market,” “Don’t Ask Why,” Another Pint,” and “Dirtbag Underground.” Fellow singer Saxon came on stage to join in on the tune “Charon.” Their night ended with the newly released “Death Wish.” The natives of Anaheim showed the Tiki Bar how they truly rock.

Full Subsurface Tension gallery below:

The final band emerged on stage around 11:45 PM, and they were worth the wait. They are Through the Oculus, melodic death metal’s newest darling. I found myself immersed in their sinister style as soon as I heard the opening number, “Lilith & Lazarus.” TTO have taken the styles of black metal, thrash, power, and metalcore to create penetrating metal that we relished hearing. Fronted by Sarah Gamblin, this fiery redhead is like Simone Simons (Epica) and Tatiana Shmailyuk (Jinjer) rolled into one. She can channel both the angel and devil inside her, which makes her dangerous. Moreover, the way she twirls her hair reminds me of Avatar’s Johannes Eckerström’s headbanging, fluid and crazy. Guitarist Randy Blount brings the classic styles of hard rock and metalcore together; whamming the wham bar and tapping the strings with such ease. Whenever Gamblin sweetened her voice, Blount answered right back with a growling voice. The contrast between the two was amazing to hear. His tapping is similar to Eddie Van Halen so he is okay in my book. Drummer Eric Freeman is tenacious with hammering the kit, while bassist Lauren Decay plays simple and complex at the same time. For nearly an hour, TTO brought the house down with their songs like “Obsess,” “Amorphous,” “Harvester,” “Revenge,” “Defiled Kingdom,” and “Inhumane.” I tell what, the best song was saved for last in “Order of the Eye,” which was met with rousing excitement. TTO opened the portal, and we all gladly walked through.

Full Through the Oculus gallery below:

The Tiki Bar was filled with heavy metal excitement. Each group was on their “A” game, showing no signs of rust. What made it even more fun was seeing all my metal brothers and sisters in the flesh once again. After a year of being apart, we were hugging, headbanging, and moshing together. A handful of people wore masks, but the CDC guidelines were not enforced that night. Therefore, normalcy was present during the festivities. I will never take shows for granted again, and I am sure no one there will as well. Heavy metal lives again! To Through the Oculus, Subsurface Tension, Fused By Defiance, and Where It Lies, I salute you! Horns up!!!

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